Caribbean Islands

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At one time the islands of the Caribbean were covered with tropical rainforest, but these have been diminished since the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Originally, hardwood was used to construct ships, homes, and furniture for the early colonists, and the rest of the forest was reaped of fuelwood and then burned for plantations. Today, very few of these islands have any forest cover, let alone primary forest. With forest loss, species have disappeared, including 35 mammals species. Some of the island nations recognize the importance of forest cover and have moved to protect the remaining forests or have begun reforestation programs.

In the Bahamas, the Bahamas National Trust has reseeded original hardwoods in Exuma National Park. In addition, the trust is restoring species that were near extinction or have gone extinct in the wild. Islanders have noticed that rain levels are returning to levels measured before original deforestation. The government of the Bahamas is working to promote eco-tourism that will bring in foreign currency and investment, yet protect the environment at the same time.

A small section (28,000 acres) of rainforest exists in Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Park which contains more than 200 species of plants and the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. The park was established in 1876 (the oldest reserve in the Western Hemisphere) by Spain, who controlled the island at the time. In the 1930s, with the island now a territory of the United States, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a road that divided the forest in half.

Cuba's natural forests are very rare. The island was more than 90 percent forested in 1492, but by 1900 forest cover had fallen to 5 percent. Since 1960, when the forest cover stood at 13.5 percent, forest area has been increasing due to reforestation. The dry conditions of 1998 resulted in forest fires. Rare species are threatened by collection for export.

In the late 1920s forest still covered three-quarters of the Dominican Republic, though by 1981 this had been reduced to roughly 14 percent from clearing for sugar cane, residential development, and logging for timber. The Dominican Republic is one of ten forested nations that
proposed compensation from wealthy countries for rainforest conservation at the 2005 climate conference in Montreal.

Country / Area
Total Forest Area
Percent Forest CoverPrimary Forest Cover
Total Change 1990-2005
Total Change 1990-2005
Anguilla6,00058.8%0 - 0.00%
Antigua and Barbuda9,00020.5%0 - 0.00%
Aruba00.0%0 - -
Bahamas515,00051.5%0 - 0.00%
Barbados2,0004.7%0 - 0.00%
Bermuda1,00020.0%0 - 0.00%
British Virgin Islands4,00026.7%0 - 0.00%
Cayman Islands12,00045.8%0 - 0.00%
Dominican Republic1,376,00028.4%0 - 0.00%
Grenada4,00011.8%1,000 - 0.00%
Martinique46,00043.4%0 - 0.00%
Montserrat4,00040.0%0 - 0.00%
Netherlands Antilles1,0001.3%0 - 0.00%
Puerto Rico408,00046.0%11,0004,0000.99%
Saint Kitts and Nevis5,00013.9%0 - 0.00%
Saint Lucia17,00027.9%0 - 0.00%
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines11,00028.2%02,00022.22%
Trinidad and Tobago226,00044.1%14,000-9,000-3.83%
Turks and Caicos Islands34,00079.1%0 - 0.00%
United States Virgin Islands10,00029.4%0-2,000-16.67%
Total Caribbean5,974,00026.1%624,00011.66%

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Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

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Image copyright Google Earth, MDA EarthSet, DigitalGlobe 2005

Last updated: 7 Feb 2006